“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”2 Timothy 1:7
When a suicide attempt is survived; the things that seem furthest away are the things promised in this verse.
When a young person tries to take their own life, we can feel powerless to help them, heart broken and confused in how best to help.
In the many conversations I have had with my former high school chaplain, who walked with me in the aftermath of my own suicide attempts, I’ve heard the powerlessness, heart break and confusion as he tried to process what was happening to me.
And as I’ve spoken to more youth workers who have walked alongside young people in their valley of suicidal despair, it’s become clear that both young person and youth worker need a special measure of compassion and care as they navigate whatever comes next.
It is vital that youth workers receive close and supportive supervision. The call to serve young people isn’t an easy one and sometimes it hurts – that’s expected – but follow-up, training and possibly some more specialist support or counselling after a young person has tried to take their own life can enable a youth worker to continue in their job. They need to know they are valued in their role, that they’ve not failed and that they are equipped to cope with whatever comes next for the young person.
After the eclipse of hope, the bright light of the real world can feel agonising to tender eyes and hearts. A suicide attempt, regardless of the clinical ‘seriousness’; demands professional counsel (if this isn’t available on the NHS explore local charities or consider setting up a fund to provide private counselling if money is an issue). It also needs reflection. Surviving a suicide attempt may be met with a maelstrom of emotions; from regret and guilt, to disappointment and exhaustion. Take your lead from the young person, walk the road ahead at their pace and make sure that you are just one part of a support network – pastoral care cannot be done in isolation. It might also be helpful to organise pastoral support for wider family members.
Gentleness has to lead the way after a suicide attempt; but that doesn’t mean that difficult decisions should be avoided. Care like this requires extraordinary love, extraordinary power and extraordinary hope the like of which can only be found in Jesus.
On the morning of His resurrection, we read in Luke 24 that he walked alongside two hopeless and exhausted travellers who cried “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Jesus was gentle as he walked alongside them on their journey; revealing Himself in His own brokenness. He is gentle with us as we navigate the world after a suicide attempt and He can be trusted.